The TreeHugger Interview: Ed Begley, Jr.

As we mentioned last week, Ed Begley, Jr. kicked it at Project Greenhouse to promote Living With Ed during the Sundance Film Festival. We chatted a bit about his show, and the role of activist celebs, before I had a chance to see it. I loved everything Ed had to say, but after screening the first episode wonder about its potential to reach TreeHuggery ideals of pushing sustainability into the mainstream, and showing how easy it is to lead a green, aesthetically-oriented life? In Ed's world, conservation seems difficult and unappealing. I hope that the gaps the show relies on, between eco-friendliness and attractiveness or convenience, narrow as the series continues.

KS: Who do you hope to reach with the show?

EB: That's the great thing about HGTV: it has a wide audience. And it's a whole demographic that we're not reaching with E Magazine or the many solar festivals I go to like Hopland. That's one crowd, and a good crowd, and they're our base in many ways -- they ARE our base in every way. But then there are other people out there who might be inclined to try something environmental if it makes sense to them economically and stylistically. That's what we're trying to do with our show, show that there's stuff that you can do and you don't have to go for the big ticket items like solar or a hybrid car or an electric car. You can start small and build. You can pick the low-hanging fruit first: compact fluorescent bulbs, energy-saving thermostats, good insulation, a bicycle for transportation, public transportation. All of these things are good for the environment and they're really cheap. KS: You've been involved with environmental issues for quite some time. What has made you feel most hopeful in recent memory? What are you most excited about?

EB: We have to remember to count our successes too. You can certainly get hung up on the bad news. You must remember the challenges we face and try to overcome them, but look at some of the good news. Look at the way the air in LA was even dirtier in 1970. You know, the 50s, 60s and 70s when I grew up there, it was horrible, choking smog. It still is smoggy and it needs to be fixed, but it's so much better. All the stuff that we did worked: smog control prices on vehicles, stationary source reduction, all of those worked and they made the air cleaner. Now we have to follow that lead. Look what we did with ozone depletion: huge problem, and still a challenge, but we're going the right direction. The ozone hole has closed, it hasn't opened, because of the banning of CFCs. So we look for those successes. Look at the Toyota Prius: they have a waiting list in many markets of six weeks or six months to get a car. That's a sign of success: that people want to do something, they want to make a difference.

KS: How do you feel about the rise of celebrity attention to environmental issues?

EB: You know, it's something you don't want to abuse, being in the public spotlight. If you're famous in sports or politics or show business and you have some notoriety you're occasionally given a platform and you want to be well-informed and talk to people. Like Dr. Noel Brown who is here [at Project Greenhouse], and scientists, people with a PhD after their name. Talk to them and see what's really going on with global climate change. What's going on with the air in LA, are we better or worse? What does the instrumentation tell you? What are the peer-reviewed studies about climate change, about ozone depletion? Look at Science Magazine, Nature Magazine -- reputable journals -- to see what's really going on. When you do that, all signs point to the fact that there is a problem but we have been making headway in some areas. Follow that example and continue to do more.

KS: One final question. Do you know what the wig you wore on Arrested Development was made of?

EB: Good question. It was real human hair!

::Living With Ed on HGTV